I want to thank Kamaira and the MindBodySpirit Connection Student Group at UNC for inviting me to come and speak about shamanism last week. We had a great group of students and other folks interested in the practice.
We touched on something during this talk that came up for the organizer as she promoted the talk, and is important to me as well. It’s about language, the power behind words, and navigating cultural differences.
The words “shaman” and “shamanic” are becoming quite popular in our culture. I am happy that shamanism is becoming more widely known and accepted. Many of the shamanic ways of being in the world and healing methods that have been used by human beings in various cultures for thousands of years can be used with great effect today. However, the title “shaman” carries great responsibility and we don’t really get to decide if we are one or not.
I do not call myself a “shaman,” but rather a “shamanic practitioner.” I feel called to the work, I’ve had certain kinds of experiences and I’ve studied with some amazing teachers in ordinary and non-ordinary reality. But “shaman” is a title traditionally bestowed on a person by the community if they get results using particular ways of journeying and interacting with the spirit world.
In traditional cultures the role of shaman was handed down through the generations or perhaps a person was chosen by spirit, often without a lot of choice by the person themselves. Typically, it was not a highly desirable job. It could be isolating, emotionally draining, perhaps even dangerous. Not dull, and certainly not easy.
I think it’s important to be right sized and to be careful that we aren’t adopting a sacred title for ourselves inappropriately. We also want to have respect for individual cultures and not appropriate their traditions. Core shamanism is one way to work shamanically regardless of your lineage.
The wisdom of approaching the world (and our relationship to ourselves, each other, and healing), in a way that we are now bundling under the term “shamanism” is not something that one group of people can or should claim for themselves, it is part of the experience of being human. We all have genetic ties to cultures that practiced these ancient ways. We may not be able to trace our lineage back to them now. Because of systematic efforts to destroy shamanic cultures, even if we could uncover our genetic lines we might not have access to the spiritual and healing practices that are our cultural birthright. But isn’t it more important to focus on our unity as human beings? When we focus on our spiritual birthright as a global community, we can draw on the wisdom and skill of cultures past and present to help us create wholeness and health now. Out of respect for the rituals, beliefs, and titles of individual cultures to which I am not a part, I will honor them, but not claim them for my own. I will also do what I can to help people heal their wounds and find wholeness of spirit today, in the culture in which I live. One of the spiritual principles I value is the idea that we are interrelated, connected through a web of existence. Union, rather than division, will help us to thrive.
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Wishing you a peaceful heart,